Israel is using tourism to legitimise its illegal settlement construction, European Union (EU) diplomats have warned.
According to a leaked EU report obtained by the Guardian, Israel is developing archaeological and tourism sites to legitimise illegal settlements in the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.
The conclusions in the report, which is written annually by the EU Heads of Mission in Jerusalem, paints a bleak picture of the situation and the conditions facing 37 per cent of the city's residents who are Palestinians. It raises concerns over Israel's ongoing home demolitions and the displacement of the Jerusalem's Palestinian residents.
EU diplomats said that Israel, the occupying power, was using tourism projects "as a political tool to modify the historical narrative and to support, legitimise and expand settlements". The projects are said to include settler run excavation sites in the heart of majority-Arab districts, a proposed cable car project with stops on confiscated land and the designation of built-up urban areas as national parks.
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The report said that Israeli settlers as well as government institutions were pushing a "narrative based on historic continuity of the Jewish presence in the area at the expense of other religions and cultures". EU officials cited the City of David project, which is a government-funded archaeological park in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan that provides tours in the ruins of ancient Jerusalem.
Israel was accused of "promoting an exclusively Jewish narrative, while detaching the place from its Palestinian surroundings". The report raised concerns over the fate of the World Heritage site of Jerusalem, by concluding that these projects were turning the ancient city "into a commercial theme park".
Local Palestinian residents are absent from the narrative being promoted to the visitors.
The EU considers Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem and the construction of settlements as illegal. It fully backs the rights of Palestinians to a national home in Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. This week the EU Commission backed the Palestinians by allocating over $17 million for projects in occupied Jerusalem. The projects, according to the Wafa news agency, are intended to preserve "the Palestinian existence and identity in the holy city."